Another prep football season is in the books with Kahuku and Radford capturing the Division I and Division II state championships Friday night.
Defense was the common theme in the first OIA sweep since 2003 — when Kahuku and Aiea paired titles in the inaugural year of Division II — with the Red Raiders and Rams delivering stifling performances to punctuate their title seasons.
Personally, the privilege of covering high school football weekends from early August to late November provided another series of memorable nights (some extending into early morning) and performances. Just a few of the highlights from the games to which I was assigned this fall included:
>> Kaimuki receiver Andrew Neves’ kickoff return for a touchdown on the final play of a 27-22 win over Nanakuli in the OIA Division II semifinals, clinching a state tournament berth for the Bulldogs. Even before Neves’ return, Nanakuli’s fourth-down touchdown pass and go-ahead 2-point conversion with 13 seconds left would have qualified as one of the season’s most electrifying finishes.
>> Speaking of lightning strikes, two games were suspended due to weather early in the season. The fourth quarter of the Waialua-Pearl City game on Aug. 22 was moved to a Monday afternoon due to lightning in the area. When the game resumed they packed an entire game’s worth of drama in those 11-plus minutes. The Bulldogs emerged with a 27-23 win on their way to the program’s first appearance in the OIA D-II playoffs since 2006.
>> Castle wide receiver Jeremy McGoldrick, a relatively slight receiver listed on the roster as a backup quarterback who emerged as one of the OIA’s big-play threats. His 15 touchdowns in just eight games included a 42-yard score against Kahuku that gave the Knights the early lead against the Red Raiders in their lightning-delayed matchup on Sept. 12
>> Kaiser’s do-everything quarterback/cornerback/kick returner Nic Tom scoring in all three phases in a win over Waipahu on Sept. 4. He passed for a touchdown, ran for another and returned a punt and an interception for scores in a 60-34 win.
>> The resurgence of Waianae and Kailua under first-year coaches Walter Young and Joseph Wong and their ground-and-pound offenses.
>> Kamehameha quarterback Justice Young throwing for a school record 374 yards against ‘Iolani in his first start with 193 going to Kumoku Noa. A testament to Noa’s production and consistency, his total that night — which ranks fourth in the program’s history — was only his third highest of the season. Young’s record stood a week before he broke it again with 381 against Saint Louis.
>> Mililani running back Vavae Malepeai’s 200-yard, four-touchdown performance in the first quarter of an OIA playoff win over Moanalua on his way to becoming the state’s all-time leading rusher. Malepeai went over 200 yards three times this season, picking up his production after quarterback McKenzie Milton suffered a shoulder injury late in the regular season.
>> Saint Louis quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s seemingly laser-guided strikes in a 56-30 win over Malepeai and Mililani in the Division I state semifinals. He completed 15 of 18 attempts for 376 yards in the first half and spent the second half on the sideline while the Crusaders clinched a spot in the D-I final against Kahuku.
>> Which brings us to the Red Raiders, who contained Tagovailoa and held Saint Louis to its lowest point total of the season in a 39-14 win in the state final. Kahuku kept the Crusaders out of rhythm for most the night by pressuring Tagovailoa and blanketing the receivers with their typically rangy secondary .
Cornerback Kekaula Kaniho forced a fumble on Tagovailoa’s first attempt and the Red Raiders recorded four sacks and came down with three interceptions.
“From the start we had to hit him and show him we’re there and from there we can control the game,” said linebacker Aaron Tapusoa, who had two sacks.
Whether splashing across a muddy field on a punt return touchdown on senior night at Carleton E Weimer Field or gliding across the Aloha Stadium turf for seven interceptions in his last four games (stat courtesy of Billy Hull), safety Keala Santiago was one of those guys who appears to play the game in a different gear. Then again, that could be said of the Red Raider defense as a whole this season.
As stated above, covering these games was a privilege. Let’s do it again next year.